For the second time in the past week, a Republican governor has signed legislation critics say allows discrimination against same-sex couples.
On Friday, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signed into law State Bill 284, which is also known as the Adoption Protection Act. The legislation allows child placing agencies to deny foster care or adoption to same-sex couples “when the proposed placement of such child would violate such agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Widely approved by lawmakers in the majority conservative Kansas Legislature in May, opponents claim it could also allow faith-based adoption centers to refuse placement to interfaith couples, divorceés, unmarried people, single mothers, or Muslims.
Colyer, however, said the bill’s intent is not prejudicial.
“What I want Kansans to know is this is about fairness and that we are protecting everyone,” he claimed during a bill-signing ceremony on Friday, as the Wichita Eagle first reported. “It’s not about discrimination; it’s about fairness.”
The governor approved SB 284the second anti-LGBTQ proposal made law this yearjust days after Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar bill in Oklahoma, Senate Bill 1140. These bills are already the law of the land in seven other states, including Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia.
Kansas now becomes the ninth.
Colyer signed the legislation at the Youth Horizons Kinloch Price Boys Ranch, a Christian entity which provides short- to long-term residential care to “boys with severe individual and family challenges.”
“By keeping faith-based adoption agencies in our state, we give more children the opportunity to be adopted,” he added in a statement.
The legislation was pushed by Catholic Charities, which threatened to stop providing adoption and foster care in Kansas if the state didn’t pass a “religious freedom” law. The second-largest social service provider in the U.S., which operates centers in a dozen Kansas cities, urged supporters to write letters to their representative supporting SB 284.
Director of the Kansas Catholic Conference Michael Schuttloffel blamed LGBTQ advocates for forcing religious entities to strongarm the bill into passage.
“This is a matter of activist groups who don’t like certain religious beliefs and they want to use the power of the government to crush people that operate according to those religious beliefs,” Schuttloffel claimed in statement sent to members of the media.
There’s precedent for religiously-affiliated adoption centers closing their doors in protest of LGBTQ rights. When the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in 2015, Catholic agencies in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. abruptly shuttered to avoid having to place children in same-sex households.
LGBTQ advocates claim, however, that no one is forcing Kansas agencies to violate their religious beliefs. Just eight states have laws on the books preventing discrimination against queer families in adoption. The Sunflower State is not one of them.
The nationwide advocacy group Lambda Legal called SB 284 “incredible and unconscionable,” while the Kansas Democratic Party claimed it’s “abhorrent.”
Other advocacy groups said it harms the populations it’s intended to benefit.
“The state’s overriding concern in matters of adoption and foster care should always be the best interest of the child,” said Ryan Thoreson, a researcher in the LGBTQ rights program at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “Laws that embolden providers to discriminate against loving, qualified parents have been a giant step in the wrong direction.”
He noted that same-sex couples are “six times more likely than heterosexual couples to foster and four times more likely to adopt.”
“Kansas lawmakers, from the legislature to the governor, are clearly stating that it is more important to them to discriminate against their own constituents than it is to find loving homes for children in need,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.
“Make no mistake: this law will harm the kids, families and reputation of this state,” she continued.
SB 284 was opposed by a bevy of child advocacy organizations nationwide, like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Child Welfare League of America. As the Washington Blade originally reported, at least 50 religious leaders in the state and nearly 40 faith-based groups around the U.S. have signed onto a letter decrying the bill.
But just hours after the bill’s passage, it’s already shaping up to be a divisive issue in this year’s election race.
Colyer, a former lieutenant governor who succeeded to the position after his predecessor left to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom under Trump, faces his first reelection campaign in November. Former State Sen. Jim Barnett, who is challenging Colyer for the governor’s chair, denounced the “religious freedom” bill’s approval on Friday.
“This is a moment of truth for Jeff Colyer today,” the conservative told the Eagle.“He signed discrimination into Kansas law and showed Kansans that the people that controlled Brownback control him.”
The two will face off in the Republican primary in August.
LGBTQ advocates and legal groups like the American Civil Unions have not said whether they plan to challenge SB 284. Following the passage of Oklahoma’s bill on Friday, the local advocacy organization Freedom Oklahoma vowed to bring a lawsuit striking down SB 1140.